Sunday, June 7, 2015

Scott Shultz 1943 - 2015

Scott Shultz was the very first Crosley guy I ever talked to.

Back in the mid nineties, before the rise of the internet, finding a Crosley was hard.  After reading about them in old sports car magazines, I'd decided I wanted one, but after months of searching, nothing had turned up in the classifieds of the local paper, the Hemmings listings were all too far away, and swap meets - even the mighty Turlock swap - had nothing for me.

Back then there was a local weekly radio show called Cruisin' Talk. Each Sunday morning, host John Sweeney would take calls from people looking to buy or sell cars and parts, and talk about upcoming car events.  A typical call would be something like, "This is Jake in Rio Linda.  I got a 401 '67 Buick nailhead for sale.  Rebuilt the heads about 1000 miles ago, got a Schneider cam, runs real good.  Looking to get, uh, $1800. Thanks."  Then the caller or Sweeney would give out the guy's number (always a guy, always) and interested parties could follow up.  It was a popular show- at least among car geeks.

In desperation, I decided to give it a go.  I called up Sweeney one weekend and said I was looking for a Crosley, preferably running, and preferably a station wagon or Hot Shot, gave my number, and hung up.

Less than a minute later, I was talking to a real-live Crosley owner - the only call I got.

Scott (or 'Scotty,' as everyone called him) Shultz had been a Crosley guy for a long time.  His dad had at least one Crosley when Scott was growing up, and an uncle had owned a 1940 in Honolulu, where Scott was born.  I'm not sure when Scott caught the bug, but by the time he called me in 1997 he was already an old hand.

Scotty offered to sell me a semi-restored station wagon that he had, but at the time it was more than I could pay.  He didn't know of any other Crosleys for sale offhand, but he offered to help with parts if I found a car, and gave me the number for Gordon Becher, a friend of his who turned out to be the go-to Crosley guy in the whole Central Valley at the time.  I can't remember whether it was Scotty or Gordon that encouraged me to join the West Coast Crosley Club (I was already a member of the national), but both of them were active and enthusiastic members.  Getting involved in the West Coast Club was really the turning point for my obsession - suddenly I had access to a whole catalog of nearby people who loved these crazy things.

Scotty lived about five miles away from me in a tiny house in West Sacramento. I'm a borderline hoarder, but Scotty took it to a level that I never touched.  His garage was completely filled with tools and hardware, with just enough space to get a car in and out.  His backyard was half the size of a basketball court, but he had crammed a parking pad, a metal shop building and a half dozen sheds on the property.  Nothing could be done without rearranging the contents of the property first - there was just no room to move.

I hadn't known Scotty long when it became clear that he was a little bit off.  There was something about his stories that didn't always make sense, and he didn't have a regular job - he just found abandoned cars and refrigerators and whatnot and took them apart for scrap.  He called himself a "professional junky."

It turned out that Scott was on disability.  He told me he'd been out joyriding shortly after graduation from high school and had gone off the road - I think one of the other people in the car died.  He himself suffered a significant head injury. He recovered, but was never able to read again, and was on disability for the rest of his life.

I'm not sure whether Scotty's near-death experience spurred him on to grab life with gusto or whether he was just wired that way, but for a guy who couldn't read, and lived on the shoe-stringiest of budgets, Scotty had his fun.
I think Scotty got more into Crosleys as he got older because his earlier days seemed all about 4-wheeling. When I met him, most of his friends were from the off roading community and they all regarded him with reverence.  Scotty had been over the Rubicon more times than he could count, and had - famously among his buddies - converted a Dolphin motor home to 4WD and taken it boonie-crashing with the best of them.  Photos of his off roading adventures were all over his house and a steady stream of 4WD buddies stopped by to visit him every time I was at his place.

Scotty's craziest 4WD adventure was in the seventies, after he'd recovered from his accident.  Bored since he couldn't get a job, he decided to drive his jeep around the world.  His parents ardently opposed this plan - he couldn't read, so how could he follow a map or read the street signs?  His answer: "all the signs are gonna be in another language, so it wouldn't matter if I could read."

Scotty drove across the US and talked his way onto a freighter on the East Coast. He convinced the captain to let him work on the boat for free in exchange for transporting his jeep overseas.  I never did get a complete itinerary for his trip, but I do know that he ended up in South America where he described once having to strip the tires off his rims so he could roll his jeep across a chasm on a 'bridge' consisting of two steel cables.  His parents drove down to Mexico City to meet him and he was proud of the fact that he could get around the city - without reading the street signs - better than they could.

The station wagon that Scotty had offered to sell me was like many Crosley 'restorations' of those days: cheap paint on a decent body, with a velour interior over polyester carpet.  It was his first restoration and he did it on the cheap - by necessity.  Scotty drove the car and took it to shows and was pretty proud of it - until Gordon asked him one day if he wanted any help with the '48 convertible he was about to start on.  Gordon's cars were one of two ways: barely-touched originals or beautiful, immaculately restored show cars.  No corners were cut - ever.

Scott stewed on this in the worst way, and swore that he'd never do a halfway job on a Crosley again. There was a strong implication in the story that I never even think about putting less than 100% into a Crosley restoration.
Since he had basically no money, he worked with what he could. He made a deal with a body shop, offering to haul their scrap away for a year if they'd do the paint and body work.  I think Gordon helped him with the motor.  I bought him some of the trim pieces he couldn't find.  His best buddy was an upholstery man and did the interior and top - as close to correct as they could get it.  It took years to finish, but in the end, Scotty's '48 turned out to be one of the nicest Crosleys in the club.  Sadly, Gordon died before it was finished, but we all knew that it would have passed muster.

Scotty's next project was more personal. On a trip back to Hawaii to visit family, Scott had asked about the 1940 Crosley his uncle had owned before the war.  His grandmother told him that it was cursed - the car had been strafed by a Japanese plane in the Pearl Harbor attack while his uncle was driving it to the base. He was wounded but recovered, and she had forbidden him ever to drive it again.  "Kahuna," she said.  They had rolled the car into the basement of the house, and that was it.

It was still there.
It took many years, but after his grandmother passed, Scotty convinced the family to let him take the car. He had it shipped to California and worked the same magic he had with the '48 convertible.  Sadly, with Gordon gone, none of his pals really understood the Waukesha two cylinder that powered the prewar Crosleys.  The car looked great, but he never did get it running.  The bodywork was beautiful under navy blue paint.  I asked him what he'd done with the door that had been strafed and he pointed to the drivers' side - "That's it. Took a lotta work to fix them holes!"

With two fantastic Crosleys, Scott's next big project was a giant trailer to haul them on.  Seeing Scott navigate his small residential street with a massive trailer full of Crosleys was always a sideshow complete with angry neighbors, backing on to people's lawns and several near-misses with parked cars.  That said, Scotty could handle a trailer like a truck driver - I'd never have been able to have gotten in/out of the places he did.
Scotty's health took a turn for the worse not long after he got the 1940 together.  He probably weighed 50% over what he should have, and his diet at the time consisted of Carl's Jr and whatever was on sale at the gas station, so it was no surprise when he began to have problems with diabetes.  Before long, the guy who had seemed nearly inexhaustible to me was barely able to get out of his chair.

Still, he never ceased to amaze.  I got a call one day asking if I could help him go up to Yuba City to pick up a complete pre-war Crosley chassis, including the motor.  I have no idea how Scott found this.  Pre-wars are so rare that you almost NEVER see this stuff turn up - especially if you're not on the internet. And, the guy wanted something like $150 for everything - only Scott could find these kinds of deals.  At this point, Scotty could barely walk, couldn't drive and certainly wasn't going to do anything with the chassis, but, a lifetime of picking junk meant that he couldn't just leave it there.  We went and got it.
The one up side to Scotty's illness was that the state sent someone out to help him with his daily activities.  Loretta Nacional became his regular caregiver and it wasn't long before they became a couple. Loretta is originally from the Philippines and was the widow of a GI - with her around, Scotty's house was cleaner than I'd ever seen it, and, if he was frustrated to be unable to work on his cars, he was happy to be spending his time with someone he clearly adored.  And, he was eating a lot better.

When Scott wasn't able to work on, or even show, his cars, he decided that it was time for them to go.  He sold the '40 and '48 convertibles and trailer as a package to longtime club member Ronnie Bauman.  Ironically, Ronnie's strain of perfectionism goes even further than Gordon's - he meticulously re-restored both convertibles, ending up with two cars far nicer than anything that ever left the Crosley factory.  Ronnie kept and continues to enjoy the 1948 convertible, but the 1940 (now two-tone brown and tan) was sold to none other than Gordon Becher's son, Keith.
Scotty gifted his station wagon to his then 16 year old nephew Chris Phelan, an aspiring gearhead.  Chris has kept the Crosley, but as a long-haul truck driver he hasn't had much opportunity to work on it.  He's still enthusiastic, and looks forward to restoring the car one day.

Once the cars were gone he turned to his parts stash.  All those sheds in the backyard: all Crosley parts - all used.  Like most Crosley guys of his day, Scott rarely threw anything away, because you never knew when you might need a spare.  Scott had literally tons of rusty cast iron crankshafts, trans tops, engine blocks, starters, generators, wheels, etc.  He called me and said, "come and get it."  I loaded up two truckloads full of spares - at least half of which were too far gone to be of any use to anyone other than a folk artist.  But, much of the stuff has come in handy - especially with projects that are missing a big chunk of parts.

Scotty and I kept in close touch and when Liv and I got married in 2006 he and Loretta were some of the first people on the guest list.  I also asked Scott about the guy who had done the upholstery on his cars - I wanted to get a top for my '49 convertible since we were planning to drive away from the wedding in it, and I knew the guy did nice work.  Scotty put us in touch, and a few weeks later I had a beautiful black Haartz-cloth top.  When I went to pay, Scotty's friend told me it was already paid for. I can't properly express how much that touched me, but knowing how hard Scotty had worked for every dollar in his life, it meant a lot.  My single regret from our wedding is that the photos we took of Scott and Loretta in front of the Crosley were on the only roll of film that the photographer lost.
Despite Loretta's loving care, Scotty's health continued to get worse.  Finally, I got the call I was dreading - Scott was in the hospital and hoped I could come see him right away.  I dropped everything and went out to see him for what I was sure was the last time. He looked (and felt) terrible.  He said they were sending him into hospice care in the next couple of days.  I visited him a couple more times, over the next few days, and then got a call from him I never expected - they'd changed his medication and suddenly he was doing better.  So much better, they sent him home!

That was over five years ago.  I'd have never believed it.

Sad to say, when Scotty's time did finally come,  I didn't find out until too late.  He went into the hospital in early April to be treated for pneumonia - he fought for two weeks, but was just too weak.  He passed on April 15, 2015, surrounded by family and friends.  I got a call from his nephew Chris a couple of weeks later - they hadn't been able to find my phone number until then.  Chris showed me some of the materials for Scotty's memorial, and I was honored to note that I had taken several of the photos they used at his service.

Scott was a good friend for a long, long time, and I can honestly say that I have never met anyone like him.  He will be missed.

1 comment:

M. Park Hunter said...

Beautiful story, Tim. We should all have such good friends. Guys like Scotty are why I enjoy Crosleys so much. Kooks, all of us, and mostly lovable and often generous.